Hassina Leelaratna, co-founder of the only Sri Lankan newspaper in the U.S. and an activist who encouraged immigrants to help when disasters hit their homeland, has died at the age of 73.
Leelaratna died in Sherman Oaks on Oct. 17 after battling lung cancer for the past five years, her son Sahan Gamage said.
After moving to California from her native Sri Lanka, Leelaratna founded Sri Lankan Express in 1981 with husband Deeptha Leelaratna.
The article was initially published twice a week in English, but in 2015 it moved completely online.
For her, it was an “intense” work of love. Leelaratna has worked full-time in other positions, most recently as a financial analyst in the Veterans Affairs Department.
The couple also broadcast the radio program “Tharanga” in English and Sinhala for the Sri Lankan community, which counts nearly 20,000 in Los Angeles County and supports about 10 Buddhist temples.
After her husband died in 2006, Leelaratna ran the newspaper herself, shedding light on the decades-long civil war in Sri Lanka and the issues facing new immigrants in that country, including health care, education and the economy.
The Express also highlighted the achievements of immigrants and their children.
“If the Sri Lankan had won the spelling, he would have been covered,” Gamage, 38, said. “We are small. We need to celebrate each other. “
Leelaratna played the dual role of a documentary of events and a participant.
She was present everywhere at rallies and protests, so she interviewed people for the newspaper and sometimes took a megaphone to inflate the crowds.
She did not hesitate to tell people what they were supposed to do, be it to raise money for tsunami victims or to show greater respect for Buddhist monks.
“She never kept quiet when she could have done something better than warn of a crisis or inhumanity,” said Podinilame Dissanayake, a longtime friend from Duarte who sometimes delivered gluing paper from the couple’s home in Pacoima. printing house in Gardena. “Her character was marked by two different qualities: her passion for journalism and her uncompromising patriotism towards the country of her birth.”
After the tsunami hit Sri Lanka and nearby countries in December 2004, the couple reported extensively on efforts to help the victims.
On a visit to his homeland, an island nation off the south coast of India, Deeptha Leelaratna discovered international aid stuck in ports or being pumped by corrupt officials.
The Sri Lankan Express was among the first media outlets to report on the corruption and inefficiency of government agencies and tsunami-related international humanitarian groups.
Hassina Lalarathna urged Sri Lankan immigrants to raise money for the victims of the disaster or to engage in social services, demanding, “Why are you silent? Let’s get together and make it happen, “Ven recalled. Punyasiri Aparekke, head of the Maithree Vihara Buddhist Meditation Center in the Sun Valley.
“I would say she and her contributions are known to more than 95% of Sri Lanka’s older generation,” Aparekke said. “She was a woman with a strong spine. She was so dedicated, she took care of the little things in life. “
Hassina Leelaratna was born on June 22, 1948 in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
In the Times of Ceylon, she met another journalist, Deeptha Leelaratno, whose contributions on politics and science earned him two scholarships, including one at Stanford.
In 1975, the couple left their homeland and moved to the United States, first settling in the Bay Area, then in Southern California.
Leelaratna, raised in a Muslim family in a small Malay community in Sri Lanka, converted to Buddhism and became devout, attending weekly meditation sessions at Maithree Vihara.
She earned a master’s degree in English from the state of San Jose, adored Shakespeare and Secrets, and read every novel by John Grisham.
She was a “persistent searcher” who encouraged sources to explain themselves, and was also committed to verifying the facts, Gamage said.
“She was really good at asking the right questions,” he said. “Why do we spend the X amount for this? Why are there two purchases when you only need one? ”
Leelaratna has been writing “all the time” and has been working on a book documenting the history of the Sinhalese people in the United States for the past few years.
The book, according to Dissanayake, is more than half-done, and friends hope to delve into her computer files and see if there is a way to complete it.
Gamage, a systems analyst who describes himself as a “terrible writer,” has no plans to take over the newspaper.
Without a successor, his future is in jeopardy.
“When my friends and I cleaned the garage and looked at my mom’s things and old numbers, they were amazed at everything the newspaper did. The depth of the reporting – suicide bombings, attacks, murders, aid – and the images and headlines were fascinating. It was about real life, it was raw, “Gamage said.” We have to save it, but how? “